The Pixar Pitch

I recently finished the book To Sell Is Human by Daniel Pink and found the section titled “The Six Successors to The Elevator Pitch” useful to my business. One of the six successors is “The Pixar Pitch”, which has you build your pitch based on a commonly used method Pixar uses to build a story.  Pink challenges his readers to use the following framework to craft your pitch to ensure your messaging is clear and concise:

Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

An example from To Sell Is Human:

Once upon a time there was a there was a health crisis haunting many parts of Africa.  Every day, thousands of people would die of AIDS and HIV-related illnesses, often because they did not know they carried the virus. One day we developed an inexpensive home HIV kit that allowed people to test themselves with sample saliva swab. Because of that, more people got tested. Because of that, those with the infection sought treatment and took measures to avoid infecting others. Until finally this menacing disease slowed its spread and more people lived longer.

Pink links to a blog post that outlines twenty-two ways Pixar builds stories, which got me thinking, what are other creative ways we can use “The Pixar Method” to build better companies. Below is the list of twenty-two “story basics.” Within the story basics I have added a few ways to apply the Pixar story building method into your business.  

Pixar story artist Emma Coats tweeted a series of “story basics”, which are guidelines that she learned from her colleagues on how to create appealing stories:

#1: You admire a character for trying more than for their successes.

#2: You must keep in mind what is interesting to your audience, not what is fun to do as a writer. They can be quite different.

  • How to apply: If you do not know what is interesting to your audience (clients/customers), simply ask. You are looking for common themes, not every piece of advice. As a leader you must act with confidence and conviction, asking your key clients and prospects will strengthen your products/services.

#3: Trying for theme is important, but you will not see what the story is about until you are at the end of it. Now rewrite.

#4: Once upon a time there was ___. Every day, ___. One day ___. Because of that, ___. Because of that, ___. Until finally ___.

  • How to apply: Create your own pitch by filling in the blanks as outlined above.

#5: Simplify. Focus. Combine characters. Hop over detours. You will feel like you are losing valuable stuff, but it sets you free.

  • How to apply: Prior to pitching a prospect identify the prospect’s biggest two or three needs and craft your pitch to clearly (and concisely) explain how your product/services can meet those needs. It will be much easier to up-service (versus up-sell) once the prospect understands your key product/service.

#6: What is your character good at, comfortable with? Throw the polar opposite at them. Challenge them. How do they deal?

#7: Come up with your ending before you figure out your middle. Seriously. Endings are hard, get your ending working up front.

  • How to apply: Identify your goal (pitch, new product/service, business plan, project) then ask yourself what success looks like and build from there (works well as a team exercise as well).

#8: Finish your story, let go even if it is not perfect. In an ideal world you have both but move on. Do better next time.

#9: When you are stuck, make a list of what WOULDN’T happen next. Lots of times the material to get you unstuck will show up.

  • How to apply: Create a list of the reasons why a client/customer would not buy your service/product then create a list of they type of client/customer that would not typically buy your service/product.
  • Bonus: If this line of thinking does not yield the desired results, try brainstorming with questions. Spend thirty minutes creating a list of as many questions to help you solve your business issue.

#10: Pull apart the stories you like. What you like in the story is a part of you; you have got to recognize it before you can use it.

#11: Putting a story on paper lets you start fixing it. If a story stays in your head, a perfect idea, you will never share it with anyone.

#12: Discount the 1st thing that comes to mind. And the 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th – get the obvious out of the way. Surprise yourself.

#13: Give your characters opinions. Passive/malleable might seem likable to you as you write, but it is poison to the audience.

#14: Why must you tell THIS story? What is the belief burning within you that your story feeds off? That is the heart of the story.

#15: If you were your character, in this situation, how would you feel? Honesty lends credibility to unbelievable situations.

#16: What are the stakes? Give us reason to root for the character. What happens if they fail? Stack the odds against.

#17: No work is ever wasted. If it is not working, let go and move on – it will come back around to be useful later.

  • How to apply: Writer’s block in business is real too, sometimes you must build forward momentum by completing a few smaller tasks first.

#18: You must know yourself: the difference between doing your best & fussing. Story is testing, not refining.

#19: Coincidences to get characters into trouble are great; coincidences to get them out of it are cheating.

#20: Exercise: take the building blocks of a movie you dislike. How would you rearrange them into what you DO like?

  • How to apply: Use your competition (or other business) to build a list of they do well and use it as inspiration to create a better product or service.

#21: You must identify with your situation/characters, cannot just write ‘cool’. What would make YOU act that way?

#22: What is the essence of your story? Most economical telling of it? If you know that, you can build out from there.

Outside of working on a few of these applications, I would love to hear how you would use a few of these story basics in your professional life. Let us know how you would apply these story basics in your business at:

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